Jean stepped out into the coolness of the deepening night, inhaling a sharp breath, pulling her jacket closer around her shoulders against the Fall chill. The negotiations were going well, she thought. Soon, there might be new people, new skills and strengths added to the Xavier Compound. That was good. There was always strength in numbers, if nothing else. She smiled at the thought of new people, new friends. Sometimes it chafed her, the smallness of her world, now.

It wouldn't be easy, of course. Too much shared pain and animosity lay between Magnus and the rest of them for that. But Magnus was right. Wasn't he always? Their futures lay together. Theirs and the future of children like Charles and David. Uneasily, Jean thought of her own children, Rachel and Nathan and the one growing slowly in her womb. What if ... ?

Jean forced herself to abandon that train of thought. There was hope, she told herself. It was possible to put aside the past for the sake of the future. Her smile broadened at the thought of the proof of that she'd witnessed. Logan and Creed had begun the evening tucked casually into opposite corners of the large room that once served as a Teachers Lounge for the Xavier School, in almost identical postures of watchful alertness. Surprisingly, it has been Creed who made the first overtures.

"How ya been, runt?" he'd grunted at Logan. "Figured you fer dead. Shoulda known better."

"Yeah," Logan had growled, "ya shoulda. But ya never were much on thinkin', Vic."

Creed's lips had moved in soundless mirth. And when Logan offered the huge man a thick hand rolled cigarette from his precious supply, Creed accepted. Hunkering down before the fire blazing in the room's great stone fireplace, the two enemies had begun to talk, cautiously, feeling one another out like the hunters they were. After a while, smiles and subdued laughter had begun to waft from their small corner.

And if those two could come to terms with one another, then Jean's faith began to grow that they all might find the strength to do that. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Jean Logan-Summers offered up a tiny prayer for success.

And then she offered up another, even more fervent one, that they weren't all making a terrible mistake.

Magnus ...

My God, allying themselves with Magnus ... were they mad?

Perhaps ...

But was there really a choice?

<"There are always choices, Jean, my dear."> the memory of Charles Xavier whispered in his strong, clear voice.

Perhaps she should go and talk to Charles. Yes, she decided, talking to Charles might clear her head and focus her thoughts. In the beginning she'd spoken with Charles quite frequently, tending his grave with fresh flowers every day and news of the goings on of the Compound. Shocked, she was shamefaced to realize that she hadn't spoken to Charles in a very long time. Yes, it was past time that she did. With quick steps she began her somber trek to his side.

The large spreading oak tree by the small lake was giving shelter to two young lovers, she saw. The Compound co-Leader had lost count ot the times she and Scott or she and John had sought refuge in it's cool shade. And how many times had she found Hank or Bobby with Moira or Warren and Charlotte seeking comfort there? Too many to count. It's majestic shadow was one of the most popular places within the Compound. It was nice to think that the venerable old landmark would have new lovers to watch over.

Smiling, she watched the young man named Remy draw a coin from behind the ear of the girl they called Rogue with a flourish, as if by magic. When Rogue laughed and reached for the coin it disappeared again in Remy's clever hands. Her grin, when she hugged the young man tightly, was broad and full. Apparently she would allow no other man to touch her ... to even come near her.

Jean shut the gate leading into the cemetery and latched it carefully. Approaching the grave, she sighed. What were they to do? Could they trust Magnus? Who were these strangers he'd brought with him? What was it that would draw them all together, make them put aside their differences as they must if they were to succeed?

"Charles, it's Jean," she began softly. "I need to talk - " But she got no further.

For there, laying on the simple, rough hewn tombstone marked, "Charles Francis Xavier" was the answer to all her questions. Her eyes glistening tears, she wondered where he could possibly have gotten such a thing. Somewhere, they must be growing wild.

It was dark, but still her eyes clearly brought her the sight of the single red rose Magnus had left laying on the grave. The freshening wind hadn't yet blown it away.

The End